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What's Kraftwerk? Green Man Festival 2022 Reviewed
Julian Marszalek , August 23rd, 2022 10:45

At its 20th anniversary edition, Green Man's all-inclusive spirit of embracing the unconventional remains stronger than ever, finds Julian Marszalek

All photos by Jan Rijk

If last year’s Green Man festival felt like the cautious yet fun awakening from the nightmare that was the pandemic, then this, the 20th anniversary edition, is characterised by a sense of joy and inclusivity from the moment the box office opens to exchange tickets for wristbands, and the uptightness of the outside world for joy.

This gorgeous location - tucked away in the Brecon Beacons and surrounded by breathtaking hills, mountains, the river Usk and a nearby canal - is populated by some 20,000 smiling and friendly souls of different generations, genders, sexualities and races. There are talks, comedy, a cinema, science exhibits, drag queens, rainbow flags, a secret cocktail bar replete with a cabaret and the ever-present Welsh beer festival in the Courtyard on top of a daring and wide-ranging musical menu, and this attitude-free gathering is topped off by wonderfully mild weather that ensures zero panic about any potential nightmares involving rain.

Mdou Moctar

This sense of communality is extended to the numerous camping fields where the territorial scrambles that permeate the UK’s larger festivals are instead exchanged for co-operation and consideration. Indeed, the young group camping next to tQ politely offers help in pitching up which soon leads to the offer of over-sweetened and flavoured cider and conversations about the music on

On one level, hearing one of them ask, “What’s Kraftwerk?” induces a momentary raising of the eyebrows but, by the same token, that’s exactly what someone of their age should be asking. Or, for that matter, should they even care? And yet, on reflection and this far into the 21st century, it’s a question worth exploring.

The more cynical observer would have Kraftwerk pegged as some kind of anachronistic pantomime, not least as Ralf Hütter is the last of the members responsible for the run of albums that started with Autobahn and ended with Computer World to remain in the group, and with no original material in almost 20 years, it’s tempting to think that they might be right. And yet this is to miss the point. As evidenced by their activities over the last decade since their The Catalogue 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 project, the German pioneers have repositioned themselves as an audiovisual art project. The 3-D element of their live show – a series of retro-futurist graphics set against a massive screen and accompanying their material throughout – is stunning on a stage of this size. Equally astonishing is seeing thousands of people sporting special 3-D glasses and gasping audibly as one as massed digits undulate across the screen before appearing to fly out into the audience.

Those same cynics might well complain about the paucity of new material when really, Kraftwerk made statements that were so utterly complete that they still resonate today. Witness ‘Computer World’ - what sounded prescient, paranoid, even, over 40 years ago – has now become reality thanks to a world only too ready to convert privacy into a series of ones and zeros. Just think of all those card payments made across the site in preference to cash transactions. There’s nothing more to add to that conversation beyond a constant tweaking and improvement of their sound that hits hard through a festival PA.

Kraftwerk crowd

That updating of sound is in full evidence during Bicep’s packed out Saturday night set at the Far Out stage. The Belfast duo – here augmented by lasers, lights and dazzling graphics – build their show slowly yet incrementally into a set of euphoric bangers. This is music for the weekend, an abandonment of convention in the pursuit of pleasure through dance and while there are occasional lulls, the highs could scale the mountains outside. And that’s the bizarre thing about Bicep – for all of their hands-in-the-air moments, there’s a lachrymose thread that runs through their music (see ‘Apricots’) but their ability to bridge these moods is admirable.

That same sense of sadness occasionally becomes manifest during Kraftwerk’s set. Their reading of ‘Radioactivity’ harks a return to the arrangement of the 1975 original before kicking into the pumping grandeur of 1991’s The Mix but only the sternest of hearts can’t feel the melancholy at the core of the song, not least as Hütter underlines the nuclear disasters of Chernobyl, Sellafield, Harrisburg, Hiroshima and Fukushima. Similarly, the optimism of travel and the cross-cultural exchange that drives ‘Trans Europe Express’ feels like a journey in reverse as we watch that huge 3-D train thundering away from what we had before 2016 as Hütter intones of meeting in Paris, Vienna and Berlin.

Gruff Rhys

It’s impossible not to think of that delivery during Dry Cleaning’s performance at the Far Out Stage. Sadly, it proves difficult to buy into their modus operandi. For far too often, it all sounds like a bored fashion model reading idly from the pages of Grazia while a half-decent goth tune wafts from some nearby speakers. And besides, anything that encourages music journalists to wheel out the word “sprechgesang” in the same way they did with “zeitgeist” way back when should be frowned upon. They’d do well studying Arab Strap, whose blend of the spoken and sung proves to be an intense yet wholly satisfying Saturday night experience. Though certainly not fun in the conventional sense of the word, their dark disco and stark, uncompromising slices of real life cut through to the bone as much as the feet.

But let’s not get too bogged down with the weight of the world when there’s a whole world of music to explore. A swap in day and line-up sees Tuareg singer-guitarist Mdou Moctar and his band taking the Mountain Stage early on Friday afternoon to sweep up the audience with their hypnotic and beguiling sub-Saharan desert blues. At times, the drones and eldritch scales recall The Velvet Underground but without the narcotics and outré sexual activity. Two days later and festival perennial and unannounced special guest Gruff Rhys eschews any moves into predictability by teaming up with Tuareg band Imarhan for a seamless cultural blend that soothes and captivates in equal measure. Likewise South Africans BCUC (Bantu Continua Uhuru Consciousness), who triumph over tired Sunday afternoon feet with their lively and highly effective Afro-psychedelia.

Viagra Boys

More conventional tastes are satisfied by a blistering set of wigged-out third eye ramalama from Australians Psychedelic Porn Crumpets while Sweden’s Viagra Boys – a mass of expanding waistlines and body ink – revel in the seedier side of life as they wait for their livers to explode. Elsewhere, Katy J Pearson makes a successful upgrade from the Walled Garden last year to a winning performance of melodic flair and groove on the Mountain Stage.

With Kraftwerk leaving the Mountain Stage one by one to the last beats of ‘Musique Non Stop’, a realisation grows that the band’s effortless melding of the mechanic with the bucolic is as apt a metaphor as we can get for the Green Festival: tweaks have been made over the years, but that all-inclusive spirit of embracing the unconventional and different remains as strong today as it ever has.